Reckless Whispe(9)

By: Barbara Freethy

Grace was a smart, articulate girl. Now, if she could just get her to remember a few more details. "You said the person was wearing a puffy black coat and a blue beanie, is that right?"

Grace nodded.

"You couldn't see their hair?"

The little girl shook her head.

"Do you remember if there were any words on their clothes? Like for a sports team or something?"

"I didn't see any."

"And you couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman?"

"I think it was a man, because he was so tall, but I don't know for sure."

"Do you remember what kind of shoes he was wearing? Tennis shoes? Boots? Work shoes?"

Grace thought for a moment, then shook her head. "I don't know."

"Was he holding Hayley's hand?"

"No, he had his arm around her. Is Hayley going to be all right?"

"I hope so. You're doing really good, Grace. You're being very helpful."

"Hayley is scared of the dark. Do you think she's in the dark?" Grace asked, fear in her eyes.

Bree could hear the terror in the little girl's voice, and she wanted to reassure her, but she also didn't want to lie to her. "Is there anything else you remember, Grace? Did you see a car through the open stage door?"

"There were lights outside. They were bright. I think they came from a car."

"Was Hayley yelling or kicking her feet or trying to pull away from the person?"

Grace's mouth turned down in a frown, and then she slowly shook her head. "She wasn't doing anything."

Was that because Hayley knew the person who had come into the backstage area of a school concert? Was the kidnapper someone who was familiar to people at the school so that they wouldn't be questioned?

The police were already looking into the janitorial staff and everyone else at the school, but it wouldn't hurt to keep what Grace had just told her in mind. "Did Hayley ever talk about anyone bothering her? Was she mad or upset with anyone?"

"She said her dad was mad at her for not cleaning up her room, and she might not be able to go to the park with me this weekend."

"Anyone else?"

"Carter told her she was clumsy, and she was going to fall during our show," Grace added. "I told him not to be mean and that Hayley wasn't going to fall."

"Who is Carter?"

"He's a boy in our class. He always says rude things."

She didn't think this Carter had anything to do with Hayley's disappearance, but the more Grace talked, the more she might remember.

"I want Hayley to come home," Grace said, her bottom lip starting to waver.

"I think that's enough," Josie interrupted, obviously disturbed by her daughter's distress.

"You did good, Grace," she told the little girl.

Grace sniffed. "I should have run after Hayley. I should have saved her."

"No. That wouldn't have helped. And you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing now. You're telling us what you remember."

"Why don't you go upstairs and finish watching your show?" Josie said. "I'll bring up lunch in a few minutes."

Grace slid off the couch, then paused, something odd in her eyes as she looked back at them. "There was something shiny on the man's hand. The hand that was on Hayley's back. Like Daddy's big ring."

"Your daddy's wedding ring?" she probed.

"No, the baseball ring."

"My husband has a ring from the Chicago Cubs when they won the World Series," Josie put in.

"Really? What does he do for the Cubs?"

"He doesn't work directly for the team. He's a real-estate developer, and he has been working with the organization to buy up some of the properties adjacent to the ballfield for additional expansion of outfield seating. You know how small Wrigley Field is, how close the apartment buildings are."

"Part of its charm," she muttered.

"At any rate, since the team hadn't won a world series since 1908, they gave out 1908 rings to staff and employees," Josie continued. "Basically, anyone who had anything to do with the team got one. They're not as nice as what the players got, of course."

Was there defensiveness in Josie's voice? Had Josie just picked up on the fact that her daughter had identified the kidnapper as having a ring similar to the one her father wore?

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